Understanding HIV Medications



HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus is a virus that attacks the immune system. The most commonly prescribed HIV medications are what are known as antivirals. Antiviral therapy (ART) is recommended for all HIV positive patients.

Generally speaking, HIV positive patients are treated with three HIV medications from two main classes of drugs. While these medications do not cure HIV per se, they can lower the viral load (number of active viruses in the patient’s body), reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to someone else, and help patients live longer.

How the HIV Virus Creates Copies of Itself
HIV, like all viruses cannot replicate (multiply) without the components of living host cells. By hijacking specific cellular processes, they take over host cells, forcing them to make copies of the virus instead of normal healthy cells. Once new copies of the virus ready, they are released. They then move on to infect other cells and the process begins again.

HIV is a Retrovirus
HIV is somewhat different in that it is what is known as a retrovirus. This means that it injects its own genetic material into cells. To do this, it uses an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which translates viral RNA into DNA.

Antiviral HIV medications use slightly different mechanisms to block this, and other cellular processes to prevent the virus from creating duplicates of itself at different stages in its life cycle.

Major HIV Medication Classes and How They Work

There are six major kinds, or classes, of HIV medications that are currently prescribed for HIV patients. These include:

Nucleoside or Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors) (NRTIs)
NRTIs and NNRTIs use slightly different ways to block an enzyme known as reverse transcriptase. Reverse transcriptase works like a translator, converting the virus’s RNA to DNA, a form that human cells can “read” use as instructions.

Integrase Inhibitors
HIV uses an enzyme called integrase to deploy its viral DNA payload into the host cell. Integrase inhibitors block this process, preventing the HIV virus from creating copies before the process can proceed.

Protease Inhibitors (PIs)
Protease is an enzyme that breaks down cellular proteins and peptides (chains of amino acids), unlocking key components that HIV needs to bind to create new active copies. Protease inhibitors then, work by preventing the virus from using this key enzyme.

Fusion Inhibitors
Fusion Inhibitors are a type of HIV medication that works outside the cell. It creates a protective barrier by locking onto the outside ‘envelope” of a cell, preventing the virus from gaining entrance into the inside of the cell.

Entry Inhibitors
Entry inhibitors also work by “locking out” the HIV virus, keeping it out of the cell so that it cannot gain access to the cellular components it needs to create duplicates of itself.

HIV Medication FAQ’s

• Aptivus- • Epzicom • Prezista • Truvada
• Atripla - • Fuzeon • Rescriptor • Videx
• Combivir • Genvoya • Retrovir • Viracept
• Complera • Intelence • Reyataz • Viramune
• Crixivan • Invirase • Selzentry • Viread
• Didanosine • Isentress • Stribild • Vitekta
• Edurant • Kaletra • Sustiva • Zerit
• Egrifta • Lexiva • Tivicay • Ziagen
• Emtriva • Norvir • Triumeq • Zdovudine is a NRTI
• Epivir • Odefsy • Trizivir

HIV Medication Side Effects

HIV medications can help HIV positive patients live longer, healthier lives. Like all medications though, they can also cause unwanted side effects. Most side effects are moderate and can be managed, some however, can be severe.

Different patients taking the same medication may also experience side effects in different ways, or to different degrees. Overall, the benefits of HIV medications far outweigh the risks of HIV medication side effects. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about any side effects you may experience.

Short Term Side Effects
During the first few weeks of treatment, some patients experience short term side effects such as:

• Fatigue
• Nausea and or vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Fever
• Muscle aches and or soreness
• Dizziness or lightheadedness
• Trouble sleeping
• Headaches

If you notice side effects such as swelling of the face, lips, eyes, mouth or tongue or have trouble breathing, you should seek immediate medical attention as it can be a sign of a life-threatening allergic reaction. You should also be on the lookout for signs such as a rash, fever, or excessive fatigue or nausea as it may indicate a more serious condition.

HIV Can Cause Overlapping Symptoms
Besides HIV medication side effects, HIV positive patients should be aware that the HIV virus itself can cause certain symptoms. Your healthcare provider can determine the difference and provide medical support. Always inform your healthcare provider of any unusual, severe, or prolonged side effects.

If you do experience side effects, make sure that you do not skip or reduce medication doses, or stop taking them without the advice of a qualified healthcare provider. Stopping you prescribed medications can increase the risk of developing a drug resistance.

What is HIV Drug Resistance?
HIV drug resistance occurs when the HIV virus becomes tolerant, or resistant to, a medication, allowing it to multiply even in the presence of the medication. In the case of the HIV virus, this means that it develops new mutations, that allow it to bypass the specific pathways that a given medication inhibits or blocks.

In other words, HIV can adapt to its environment. HIV drug resistance can occur when patients do not take enough of their prescribed HIV drugs, or when they take them for long periods of time and the virus has a chance to adapt.

Long Term Side Effects of Prescribed HIV Drugs

Some side effects of prescribed HIV medications can occur after months or years of taking them. These can include:

• Liver damage
• Renal (kidney) problems
• Heart issues
• Increased amounts of fat in the blood
• Diabetes or insulin resistance
• Weakened bones
• Sleeplessness
• Depression or suicidal thoughts
• Dizziness and others

Your healthcare provider can explain what side effects to watch for, as well as providing ways to minimize them. At ASP Cares, we understand the complex dynamics of that an HIV diagnosis brings.

As experts in all areas of HIV care, we provide comprehensive, compassionate services to help you achieve your best possible outcomes.

From free nationwide, discreet shipping to dedicated reimbursement specialists to help you maximize your benefits, we are here to help.

This content does not represent medical advice. It is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified medical provider.

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